Crystal Palace 0-0 Liverpool: A Poor Game But Not A Poor Performance
Liverpool did enough to win on Saturday but injuries, fatigue, and necessary rotation saw them fall short in a forgettable stalemate
Unable to watch the match live, I stayed up until 2am watching the whole game back without knowing the score. I very rarely miss games, but the ones I have missed, included a 5-5 draw with Arsenal (where LFC won on penalties) as well as the 2-1 win over Villa where Liverpool came back from being 1-0 down in with three minutes of the 90 remaining.
I think from that point I convinced myself that any game I missed would turn out to be a thriller; the game against Palace, admittedly, couldn’t have been further from a thriller. But there’s a tendency to label 0-0 draws not only as crap games (which often they are) but crap performances as well, and I don’t think that was the case here.
No Nunez, no Diaz, no Konate, No Thiago, and unsurprisingly, Liverpool’s football looked a lot slower. Jota is back, but still only looks about 50% sharp and is unable to beat his man. Konate brings pace to the back line, as well as reassurance, whereas Matip looks awfully shaky and understandably at his age, not as quick. Thiago isn’t fast but he plays the ball quickly and still speeds up Liverpool’s play. Gakpo and Salah are quick, but in different ways to the likes of Nunez and Diaz, and were also never played in behind; not having Thiago plays a role there.
The injury list is pretty ridiculous, and to me, not far off being as debilitating as the injuries in 20/21. That season, the injuries were ‘targeting’ the backline, whereas this season, injuries have targeted the players aged between 23-27, meaning Liverpool are left with a combination of players who are too old and players who are too young, with little to no in between.
That’s why you see a midfield that is too old starting, with two kids coming off the bench. The starting midfield lacked legs, but kept the ball well, while the kids who came on offered energy, but gave the ball away too often.
Having said all that, it was a fairly decent showing from Liverpool, who on another day, could have won the game one or two nil if they were more clinical. It’s not as though they didn’t create any chances; Jota’s strike was good, Trent’s free kick was probably going in had Henderson not headed it away, Salah had a chance in the first half and hit the bar in the second, and Gakpo had the right idea with the chip at the end but was denied by a brilliant save, which only I seem to have noticed was a save.
Those are all positives, and improvements from games where Liverpool haven’t looked like scoring at all, but it was a shame the team went a bit overboard, and generously started creating chances for Crystal Palace as well. I watched much of the first half with my head in my hands, as Alexander-Arnold, Naby Keita, and Joel Matip to decided to help a team struggling for creativity by playing them in on goal. Keita was sloppy and so incredibly slow; he was letting players get past him way too easily and fouling them instead of winning tackles.
Fabinho came on and instantly looked like someone who has played 120 minutes. Despite the crazy pressing statistics against Madrid, I’m not sure how that’s possible.
But it does explain a lot; many of the players who featured against Real looked tired or were sensibly rested, after what was about as exhausting a ninety minutes as Klopp’s side have ever experienced; indeed, Daniel Rhodes wrote on The Tomkins Times that the Reds broke their own record for the most amount of presses in a single match against Real Madrid.
Palace is never an easy place to go to (apart from when Liverpool won a freak 7-0 there, but that was in an empty stadium and against Roy Hodgson. And it was a freak result, like Madrid’s win on Tuesday) and with the line-up Klopp was in some part forced to pick, this was never going to be an easy win. Liverpool would have to grind it out and win ugly; something they used to be experts at.
It’s something that’s lacking at the moment, but Liverpool created the necessary chances; they just didn’t take them. But again, the impact of the return of key players will be huge.
Liverpool made silly mistakes which gave the Eagles encouragement, but they weren’t being carved open, which has been far more concerning to see this season. I thought they were good defensively, and finally, they defended set pieces properly. You feel as though in an earlier stage of the season, Liverpool would have caved into the pressure towards the end and conceded from a set piece, and lost. This time they didn’t, and it never really looked like they would.
I don’t know whether it was coincidental, but I have wondered since the disastrous set piece defending against Madrid, if Nunez has been part of the problem. It seemed to be his zone on Tuesday. He’s good in the air, so I can see why he’d be put in a key zonal area, but it’s not always the case that someone who’s good at scoring headers is good at defending them.
As I say, it could just be a coincidence, and I don’t know exactly how Liverpool set up to defend set pieces from a detailed tactical standpoint. But it did look like it was Nunez’s zone against Real Madrid, and the defending against Palace was better without him. It’s not necessarily his fault if that is the case, it just means he shouldn’t be put in key areas when defending set pieces, at least until he gets more in touch wit the system and/or physically improves at winning defensive headers.
Of course, it could just be that Liverpool have really worked on it since the shocker of a third goal on Tuesday.
So, I’m not sure there’s a correlation between the improved set piece performance and the absence of Nunez, but I am sure his absence blunted the attack. Saturday night highlighted the “Nunez causes chaos” cliché, but also explained some of Liverpool’s struggled on a wider scale. Nunez doesn’t just offer chaos, he offers goals, and without him, it was no surprise to see Liverpool fail to bag any. The Uruguayan has only started about half of Liverpool’s Premier League games and the Reds have been significantly worse without him.
Towards the end of the game, I saw two teams who didn’t want to lose, and when Klopp substituted Gakpo for Bajcetic, I knew he was happy to take the draw at that point. There a lot of games left and that wasn’t a must-win, but with Spurs beating Chelsea, it’s another two points the Reds will have to make up for in their race for a top four finish.
Hopefully Nunez and Konate are back for Wolves, as that game has just become a lot more important, not only in terms of top four, but as the ‘rehearsal’ for Man United; Ten Hag’s men are on cloud nine after their cup win, whereas Liverpool are one point off ninth in the table. This season has been a tough watch, but defeat to United at Anfield would be a real blow. If Liverpool can beat Wolves, ideally without fully exerting themselves, and Nunez are Konate are fit to start, Liverpool will find themselves in a much healthier ‘moment’ (as Klopp likes to say) heading into the United fixture.
But this one was just one of those where you need to take your chances when they come, even if they aren’t great, because you’re never going to get many in a game like that. The finishes weren’t poor, but not quite good enough either. Liverpool weren’t poor, but not quite good enough either. Defensively, it was better, but the attack lacked potency, and that was largely down to an extensive injury list and the need for rotation.
Key players returning, less fatigue and some degree of normality in terms of fortune, will lay the grounds for a more accurate assessment of where the team is really at, but this season is “not one for the history books” as Klopp said, and neither was this game.